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Feminism for Early Starters: Picturebooks

My plan to write a ‘little post’ about feminism in children’s books turned into  an unwieldy behemoth. For that reason, I’ve decided to split it into smaller sections, starting with…


I’m not going to rattle on about the importance of picture books in the feminist movement. They are one way in which preliterate children and emergent readers come to understand the world around them, first by clues in the illustrations alone, then by combining visual and textual to create meaning.

Generally, picture books reinforce traditional gender roles and heteronormitivity. More recently, there has been a shift in production of books for pre-school and primary education designed to empower young girls and instil and ‘I can do anything’ attitude in them – see Carmela laVigna Coyle’s Do Princesses… series for a prime example, but overwhelmingly, picture books, with the possible exclusion of those that fall into the ‘post-modern’ category, do little to subvert. Depressingly, this is most apparent in learn-to-read scheme stories such as the Oxford Reading Tree, in which stereotyped family units and gender roles are the norm.  A study carried out in 2003 by Prof. Diane Reay and discussed in Kat Banard’s excellent book The Equality Illusion found that the education our children receive at in early years education is remarkably gendered, with teachers reinforcing typical gendered behaviours:

…girls received harsh criticism from teachers when they didn’t conform to stereotypical gender behaviours. Teachers described girls who misbehaved as ‘bad influences, ‘spiteful’, and ‘scheming little madams’, yet when boys behaved in similar ways, they were described as ‘just mucking about’.

The Equality Illusion  p. 54

So for feminist parents it is critical that books that subvert traditional gender roles are introduced in the home.

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